By Rachel Clevenger, RRT, ECG, CTP
The culture of instant messaging and Google searches has brought an ease of access of usable information into many areas of our lives, but the average American is busier today than ever before. In addition to our family and jobs, we also have 24/7 emails, messages and teleconferences to factor into the crowded schedule.
Within the walls of a hospital, the palpable strain of new patient admissions, changing policies, updated technology, continuing education, and increasing workloads can be viewed plainly on the faces of the already struggling staff members. You can look into their eyes and see the strain of their load, even if never a word is spoken. The “hurry up and wait” pace of our healthcare facilities compounds the frustration for these individuals and for their patients who are directly impacted.
Why are our crippling stress and busy schedule worn as a badge of accomplishment, as we blindly chart productivity throughout the day? Why do we measure the success of our day by how little time we find for anything else? While we preach patience, constant movement is demanded.
It may seem unbelievable, but somewhere in the last few decades, someone seems to have invented the nefarious connection that the busier you are; the stronger your work ethic must be. If you are stressed to the hilt and do not drop a step, you are to be admired and praised by management.
Passing one another in the hallway, one may cheerfully state “I’m too blessed to be stressed!” but this is often a lame attempt to deflect and bolster their own weariness.
Life is already rough, but hospital staff seems to revel in our ability to shoulder enormous loads and walk without grimacing. This policy mindset is unsustainable and leads directly to the burnout culture and also to health or mental breakdowns for exceptional people.
Being busy is not the same as hustling, and the ability to bear high stress does not equate to your work ethic.
This is equivalent to stating that the more you speak, the more intelligent you must be. And never was a statement less true than this!
From the top of the pyramid to the bottom, the myth that being busy is being productive must be exposed for the lie that it is. Compulsive behavior may feed this myth, but bodies and minds eventually get tired, and employee morale will evaporate like a drop of water on a scorching hot day. Loyalty to a company may fend off the inevitable for a time, but even sincere dedication has its breaking point.
In reflection, how do we identify these hard-working individuals at risk and how can we divert their course from the road to burnout?
1st: Compulsive Tendencies vs. Being Busy
As an individual that tap dances daily with my own compulsive behavior, we must first understand that being constantly busy is usually a distraction from other important aspects of our lives. Depressed and anxious individuals often pour themselves into work to keep their minds from wandering to dark places where thoughts can fester. Keep an eye on your co-worker that might have an added challenge like this, because they will often take on more tasks than they are able to complete. Especially if they have apprehension about asking anyone for help.
If you are aware that an employee has compulsive tendencies, keep vigilant for cracks in the armor. Everyone feels the effects of stress, but it may not be visible for these folks until it overwhelms the individual.
2nd: Chain of Command Identification of Unreasonable Exceptions
When schedules are created and daily tasks are assigned, it is the hope of all that the manager/scheduler/lead has at one time experienced the same job duties that they would easily recognize potential pitfalls of the shift. This can be a hazard if the assigner of the tasks is too far removed from the action, or has not had a career ladder within the facility.
There are exceptions to this rule, but it is vital that the supervisor should know his or her employees’ abilities relating to duties. If the patient load is too heavy, help should be afforded to this person as it is available. Making the mistake that “so-and-so” can always “handle it” is a poor justification, and might lead to the loss of an employee who does not wish to speak up on their own behalf. These challenges should make their way into the upper management, in order that they can be scrutinized at the leadership level for more permanent solutions such as increased hiring or detailed training.
3rd: Praising Well Completed Results, Not the Speed of their Completion.
As healthcare employees go about their assignments, it is a falsehood to believe that each area of patient tasks should be completed in a pre-designated amount of time. Just like any other aspect of life, some people require much more attention, while others are quickly finished without delay. From treatments to assessments to therapy, staff must rely on their own judgment to decide what the situation requires.
While a busy “buzzing” member might fly through the worklist every day, the HCAT scores will fail to improve because of the person’s failure to connect with the patients. With this “hurry up and wait” culture already plaguing hospitals, vulnerable patients desire that human connection and favor the ones who don’t treat their interaction as “productivity”. The opposite extreme of completing tasks is not acceptable either, as could a failure to treat in an acceptable window of time. The balance between must be eventually found by each staff member, with the emphasis on completion rather than speed.
As healthcare is a family of talents, we must never fail to recognize that just as in any family, members have different levels as to what they can handle. While it would be easier to treat all employees with a structured template for wellness, this could be detrimental with the wrong estimates. Working like a machine does not make you one, and our human response to stress will eventually make itself visible; in our body, mind, or both.
Remember to separate those with compulsive tendencies from those who are actually busy. Use the chain of command to identify unreasonable exceptions, and praise the well-completed results rather than the speed of their completion. Be one that saves your department from burnout.
Rachel Clevenger, RRT, ECG, CTP is a respiratory therapist at Houston Methodist Hospital. She is a frequent blogger and passionate about lung health. Visit her website lunghelp.net to learn more about her efforts to create a Vaping Lung Injury Specialist (RRT/VLI-S) certification. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Houston Methodist Hospital.